Wellesley’s theater scene is getting a fresh infusion of opportunities for young people thanks to a new arts academy in town called the Wellesley Theatre Project. The year-round program will offer classes and the chance to perform for kids in pre-K (age 3) to 12th grade.
The non-profit program was formed in January by Executive Director Hillary Drew and Artistic Director Benjamin Rush, who say they were drawn to the area by Wellesley residents Michael and Elizabeth Scholl, whom they met in Florida through the local theater community. The Scholls moved to Wellesley with their daughters in part for its robust performing arts program, which regularly attracts many more kids to auditions than there are named roles, but also noted limited opportunities for younger would-be performers. This, says Drew, inspired the Scholls to start roughing out what it would take to start a youth theater company and they got in touch with Drew and Rush to help make it happen.
Wellesley Theatre Project’s first production camp starts on June 25, and registrations are being accepted now. One-week theater arts camps for kids pre-K to 1st grade will also be offered this summer.
“We believe that a teaching component is very important to theatre,” says Drew, who along with Rush has been taking in recent Wellesley Middle School and Wellesley High productions. “Students need to receive instruction and technique before they try out their skills on stage. We will always offer acting and production classes (including tech!) throughout the year. Our productions will be high quality from the set design, lights, sound, and costumes. We believe that providing students with a professional product and work environment helps them to understand the art as art, take pride in it, and grow as individuals through it.”
The program has three productions already planned, the first a mysterious “brand new musical release” to be announced shortly and to be performed July 12-14 at Wellesley Middle School. Next up will be musicals “Seussical” Aug. 2-4 and “Legally Blonde” Aug. 23-25, also at Wellesley Middle School, which will be home to the summer camp, too. Wellesley Theatre Project is in negotiations for its other class space. The program will turn productions around quickly, with camps/production periods lasting roughly 3 weeks. We’ve begged them to put “Annie” out of its misery by don’t know if we’ll be successful on that front.
“The idea is that these camps are fun intensives held from from 9am-4pm,” Drew says. “Campers will receive daily instruction in dance, voice, and acting as well as rehearsing the production. It’s all about the total number of hours spent and how those hours are spent.“
The program also plans to have its students — what it calls “citizen artists” — focus on giving back to the community each year by helping other nonprofits, such as by raising awareness through public art installations and fundraising.
While Drew and Rush are the program’s two full-time employees they will be seeking interns and teaching artists, plus will hire choreographers and musical directors for each production/workshop, and have a small budget for musicians. The program is also busy applying for various grants to fund its efforts.
Wellesley Theatre Project is pleased with the support it’s getting from the Wellesley Public Schools, Drew says. “We’re finalizing plans for a WTP-hosted master class this May open to WMS and WHS performing arts students. In collaboration with Wellesley’s Performing Arts department, and led by cast members of current Broadway productions of ‘Jersey Boys’ and ‘Book of Mormon,’ Wellesley students will participate in programs that include workshop, choreography, singing and audition coaching.”
Wellesley Theatre Project certainly isn’t the only game in town: Other opportunities for locals interested in theater are provided by Wellesley Public Schools Performing Arts, The Wellesley Players, Wellesley College Theatre, LINX and TCAN. But Wellesley Theatre Project sounds as if it’s going to be a welcome addition.